Punch Taverns has partnered with fish and chips group Harry Ramsden's as part of its on-going plans to improve its food and drink offer across its estate.
The 3,500-site leased and tenanted pub group, which today posted a loss of £105m in its preliminary results, also announced that its average profit per pub was up 4% compared to last year, and that it was focusing on improving the food and beverage offer of its core estate.
Chief executive Duncan Garrood, who joined the group in June, told The Caterer today that his core strategy was about focusing on the needs and wants of the consumer, depending on the local community's demands, and style of the pub.
Garrood, who has a retail background, having worked in the food division at MH Alshaya and as commercial director of airports operator BAA, explained that he was looking at the pub group's offer from a more retail-centric point of view, and was considering an increased focus on high-quality food and drink, especially for pubs that would benefit from a higher-quality gastronomic set-up.
The partnership with Harry Ramsden's was not a sign that the group was moving towards a solely food-focused approach, however, he said, with each pub still altering its offer depending on the community it serves.
Speaking to The Caterer, Garrood commented on the new partnership, saying: "Pubs and fish and chips are natural soulmates, so we have formed a partnership with Harry Ramsden's. That's an offer where we've got brands, quality, and a partner who has great expertise on food."
He added: "I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that we expect the vast majority of our pubs to be gastropubs. The majority have got to serve good, high-quality, honest pub food, cooked well but simple and good value for money. I still think there is a huge opportunity in our business to improve that."
Speaking about the group's on-going direction, he said: "The first thing is for us to understand what's expected in the local community. What do customers want; what type of beer; is it a pub that is more cask-ale oriented, or with more female customers? I want to make sure that Punch is a customer service-focused and consumer-oriented business. It's really about understanding what people who use our pubs want, and making sure that we can work with our publicans to deliver it."
He concluded: "I see a hugely rosy future for pubs and for Punch pubs if we all manage to offer what consumers want."
The group also confirmed that its five-year plan included investing between £250-300m across 500 of its pubs in the next five years, and in deposing over about 400-500 pubs in the same timeframe, to help Punch pay down its debt.
The group confirmed today that it has already managed to reduce its debt by £500m to £2b, and attributed its £105m loss to one-off re-valuing of properties, exceptional items, and re-financing.